OCEAN CITY – Rising gas prices may be affecting some vacationers this year, but it certainly didn’t deter thousands of senior weekers from flocking to the resort, with over 13,000 turning out this year for the planned Play It Safe events.
Play It Safe events occur each year during the month of June, providing fun, alcohol-free events for the recent high-school graduates to participate in.
The mission of Play It Safe has remained the same throughout the years – “encourage high school graduates to make informed, healthy choices while having responsible fun without the use of alcohol and other drugs.”
Last year was a record-breaking year for Play It Safe, with 13,148 recent graduates turning out during the month of June for the events. With 13,095 already reported for this year’s Play It Safe campaign and two events left to add to the final total, it look as if 2008 could be another record breaking year.
Donna Greenwood, chairwoman of the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee, which organizes the annual events, reported this week it was another successful year with the senior week visitors.
Play It Safe kicked off on June 1 this year with the popular Play It Safe OC Idol and wrapped up on June 20. Greenwood reported that the first week was the busiest this year, surprising officials as they anticipated week two to be the strongest.
“More and more of our local kids were with us this year,” said Greenwood.
Despite media reports of senior week mischief and a few Boardwalk brawls amongst the younger crowd, Greenwood reported a good group of kids this year with few problems.
“We don’t really have too many problems with the kids. They have to sign in and we can ask them to leave if they are not in any condition to participate,” said Greeenwood. “We do try to screen them, we also try to watch out for age or for people who shouldn’t be at the events. If somebody is alcohol impaired, we really don’t want them with us.”
Despite some of the unavoidable pitfalls, Greenwood reported that she was pleased with this year’s graduates, noting how enjoyable the events were for them as well as for the volunteers.
‘The kids are appreciative and grateful, always saying thank-you,” she said.
Greenwood explained most of the kids visiting Ocean City are simply here to have fun with a fraction of the thousands getting into trouble.
“You really can’t paint them all with the same brush,” said Greenwood.
Play It Safe events range from pancake eating contests to rock climbing to miniature golf, with over 60 events held throughout the month.
Karaoke is typically the most popular event amongst the senior week crowd, said Greenwood, reporting more than 1,100 graduates turned out for each of the two Play It Safe OC Idol events.
“The kids really like it, it’s right off the Boardwalk, right on the beach, its really fun,” she said.
For the first time this year, Play It Safe was provided with the driving intoxicated simulator, a go-cart that simulates for grads what it is like to drive impaired.
“It gives the feeling of what it’s like to be in that situation,” said Greenwood.
Other mechanisms are also used to encourage the students to stay off the roads during their visit. The Town of Ocean City provides free bus passes for all senior weekers who participate in the Play It Safe events in an effort to keep the grads and the streets safe.
“We are so grateful to the town. Having the bus passes is a real blessing. It keeps the kids off the road and it helps our community,” said Greenwood, adding that parents are particularly grateful for the encouragement to use the bus instead of driving.
Each year, in an effort to spread the word about Play It Safe events, a grant is received, through the health department, allowing for 75,000 booklets to be printed and distributed to all counties in Maryland. Booklets are also provided to local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, the Visitors Center and to local realtors and hotels. Realtors and landlords are manned with plenty of booklets and usually hand them out to the students as they arrive, said Greenwood, noting that keeping the kids active and out of trouble is beneficial to landlords and realtors as well.
The Play It Safe website has also become a powerful tool in spreading the word, said Greenwood, noting the program has seen students from as far as Kansas participating in the events. “The website has spread the word so far and wide,” she said.
Greenwood attributed this year’s success to everyone involved, from the town employees, to local businesses to the volunteers.
“If we didn’t have the businesses that help us and the donations from all across the community, this wouldn’t be possible,” Greenwood said. “We’re really fortunate to have so many volunteers.”
Next year will mark the 20th year for Play It Safe and it’s grown each year.
“We started out with just an eight-page booklet. Now we have a 32-page booklet and over 60 events,” said Greenwood, remembering the first Play It Safe event, a dance at the Ocean Pines Beach Club.
As for plans for the 20th year, Greenwood said, “we’ve been thinking a lot about it, but no plans yet. We want to do something spectacular to celebrate 20 years.”